Malaysian singer Yuna is far more than just a 'Muslim pop star'

The World
Yuna Zarai poses at her show at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston.

Yuna Zarai poses at her show at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston.

Marco Werman

You might know Yuna Zarai as simply, the singer behind the Pharrell Williams-produced song “Live Your Life.”

On the track, Yuna sings, “Find your light/Don’t hide from what you are.”

These lyrics are sort of a mission statement for Yuna. She began writing songs at the age of 14 and then landed a spot on “One in a Million," Malaysia’s version of American Idol. She managed to get into the top 40 contestants before being eliminated.  

Would people know her music without the show? "Probably not,” she answers, but not in the way you'd think.

“When I went for that audition, I remember I really wanted that opportunity to just advance to the next round," Yuna says. "And I did not, and I got so frustrated. I told myself, ‘Well, this is not the end. You know how far you could go. People know that you can actually sing.’”

So Yuna says she began to learn the guitar and really throw herself into her song writing. It paid off: She quickly got noticed by an American record label, and things snowballed from there.

But most of the attention she gets in American media is focused on the fact that she is a pop star wearing a hijab. That often leads to headlines like “The Muslim Pop Star," which L.A. Weekly used in May.

“I mean, I’m not going to run away from the person that I am,” she says. “It is what it is. I am a Muslim singer songwriter. I practice Islam. It’s my religion, it’s my belief — it’s normal. You know, everyone has their own thing, their own beliefs. It doesn’t stop me from getting people listening to my music.”

Yuna has filled clubs in Boston twice in the past year, where she says her audience is diverse, consisting of “hijabi girls, hip-hoppers and the Asian-American boys.” And she says she’s just grateful her music has been well-received. 

Yuna fans Sarah (left) Sartou (right) attend the singer's Boston show.

Yuma fans Sarah (left) Sartou (right) attend the singer's Boston show.


Marco Werman

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